Saturday, March 29, 2014

David Simon and the Audacity of Despair

David Simon, creator and writer of The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008) and Treme (HBO, 2010-2013), author of the nonfiction crime classics, Homicide:  A Year on the Killing Streets (Houghton Mifflin, 1991) and The Corner:  A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (Broadway, 1997), and former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, can now add cultural critic and riveting public speaker to his resume, although I would argue that his work has always involved sharp and barbed cultural criticism whether in television fiction or in signed pieces of simmering nonfictional journalism.  In every case, in every word, he is a force of nature.

My love for his work led me to his blog, The Audacity of Despair, a perverse reworking of Barack Obama’s 2008 memoir and political wax job.  The subtitle is “prose, links and occasional venting,” which about sums up the content.  Simon’s writing is piquant and cutting at times, but he also does a good job, better than most writers, of taking a sweeping, gigantic public policy issue or philosophical moment and rendering it in small, powerful scenes and interactions between characters.  Although his work has a definite point of view, he does not skimp on character.  He is like a reincarnation of famed Baltimore Sun reporter and cultural critic H.L. Mencken for the digital age.

His intimate revelations between characters are best illustrated by his March 4th post entitled, “Carnival Time.”  It is a spare, moving dialogue between Simon and his daughter as they walk the streets of New Orleans one night at the start of carnival season, that rich and evocative time Simon captured so well in Treme.  In a few short lines, he gives us childhood, life, death, and a reflection on what makes us human and what makes such moments the fleeting gems of pure love and grace we all live for.

He can also be the angry man raging at a merciless and unforgiving God or a blustering fool of a politician, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christy.  Check out his post, “The Highway’s Jammed With Broken Heroes…” for Simon’s gleeful takedown of the former Republican presidential candidate.

Through his blog, I found several videos of Simon speaking in a variety of forums about the state of America.  A good sampler can be found on Bill Moyers’ website.  Moyers has interviewed Simon a few times.  His most recent appearance is entitled, “David Simon on America as a Horror Show.”

One of his best public speeches was at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2013.  Here’s the entire video:

For me, David Simon’s work, whether it be on HBO, at the lectern speaking to a packed audience, or on his blog, is crucial to the dialogue that should be taking place across America.  Like Charles Dickens, his cultural critique can be a little heavy-handed at times, but always imperative.  I look forward to his next film project, and until then, will continue to read his blog and whatever else he publishes.

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